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SNAP leader says organization is here for local priest sex abuse survivors

July 18, 2019 07:28 PM

Shortly after NewsChannel 13 brought you Michael Harmon's story of alleged priest sex abuse in Albany in the 1980s, the Albany chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests or S.N.A.P contacted NewsChannel 13's investigative team. Albany SNAP Leader Nancy Fratianni has a message for survivors in the Capital District.

Nancy Fratianni S.N.A.P. leader for Albany, "For people to reach out who don't know where to go. They don't know what the first step is, they may not want to go back to the church to somebody because they're uncomfortable with that. They're afraid to go to the police, they're afraid to talk to friends or family."

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NewsChannel 13 is digging deeper, taking a closer look at the list of the Diocese of Albany's Credibly Accused while serving in the Diocese. Those included have been removed from ministry and those who were deceased or resigned prior to a finding of reasonable grounds by the Diocesan Review Board due to sexual misconduct with a minor according to the Albany Diocese.

Several ex-priests within the Diocese of Albany have been named in civil lawsuits over the years. Some court records WNYT found show the cases were discontinued.  No civil records are kept on file out of court settlements.  Some former priests locally have been convicted criminally for crimes against children. One of them managed to walk away a free man.

Nancy Fratianni with S.N.A.P. in Albany told NewsChannel 13, "Every time one survivor comes out and says something, it makes it easier for others as well." 

Not long after 49-year-old Michael Harmon went public with his accusations against ex-priest with the Albany Diocese Father Edward Pratt, emails from viewers started coming in to WNYT.

Nancy Fratianni added, "I wanted him to know that he was supported and that we care. We're here for him and other survivors like him, and how very brave that was to speak openly about his experience."

In June, Michael Harmon told NewsChannel 13, "I had to be at his mercy, because he told me if I ever stopped him that I would be taken away from my mother."

Pratt declined to speak with 13 Investigates. One of 47 clergy listed as credibly accused by the Diocese of Albany and removed from ministry. Less than-two dozen are alive today, including ex-priest Father Joseph Romano.

NewsChannel 13 found Romano living at an apartment in Clifton Park.

Jill Konopka stated to Father Romano, "He claims you abused him at the LaSalle School? Father Romano responded, "No I didn't abuse anybody. I have nothing more to say. I didn't abuse anybody."

The Diocese says then Bishop Howard Hubbard permanently removed Romano following two credible allegations of sex abuse in 2002 and 2003 dating back to the 1970s and 1980s. That was around the same time one of the reported victims attended the LaSalle School in Albany. Joseph Romano according to the Albany Diocese still receives a pension and health coverage. A spokeswoman tells NewsChannel 13 full pension benefits are $1,900.00 a month plus health benefits, available to all but two priests on the list of credibly accused who are still living. 

Massachusetts records show former priest Gary Mercure remains locked up in Bridgewater. State officials there do not release any details or a recent mugshot to the media.

In 2010, a jury in Berkshire County found Mercure guilty of three counts of raping a child with force after two Queensbury altar boys testified Mercure drove them separately across state lines and raped them. At the time of Mercure's conviction, the Diocese called his "attacks on children sinful, criminal and reprehensible. Our hearts today are with the children who were abused, all now adults. We admire the strength and courage they demonstrated by coming forward. As devastating as their experiences must have been, they have shown by example that they are survivors-strong, resilient and powerful." In 2008, the Albany Diocese stated they received a written complaint that Mercure sexually abused minors. Officials then notified law enforcement authorities and Warren County then District Attorney Kate Hogan.  The result of a Diocese investigation resulted in Mercure being banned permanently from ministry. Mercure was also barred from functioning as or presenting himself as a priest, according to a Diocese press release from 2010.

Some have been named in civil lawsuits over the years, including one from a local man who sought millions. You can find a few on the sex offender registry, while some appear to have moved out of state. Many we've reached out to and haven't heard back. Others are leading quiet lives out of the spotlight.

Ex-priest James Michael Taylor appears active on Facebook, five years after accepting a plea deal that avoided jail time. Taylor originally pleaded guilty to inappropriate contact with a teenage girl. 

The most recent Albany Diocese priest sex abuse case was last year, with the permanent ban of reverend Jeremiah Nunan.

The Albany Diocese review board found he sexually abused a minor in the early 1990s. The now 82-year-old remained on administrative leave for six years prior his removal from ministry.

The Albany S.N.A.P leader says they'll always be here for survivors.

Fratianni added, "S.N.A.P. is all about healing and preventing further abuse."

"The Diocese of Albany continues its full cooperation with the Attorney General's civil investigation. This includes the rolling production of electronic documents as specified by the subpoena. The Diocese is complying with ongoing production of documents which include confidential victim/survivor information. Regarding the CVA, the Diocese is prepared to respond to any claims associated with the CVA consistent with the guidelines set by the New York State Office of Court Administration. In anticipation of the CVA implementation date, the Diocese has received communications from survivors and attorneys. In such cases, we promptly notify civil authorities as well as the diocesan Assistance Coordinator. Bishop Edward Scharfenberger and the Diocese are committed to assisting survivors through whatever course or remedy they may elect," Diocesan Spokeswoman Mary Deturris Poust previously told NewsChannel 13.

The Diocese tells NewsChannel 13 it does not tolerate abuse against children and encourages everyone to report alleged abuse to police or the Diocese.  Bishop Edward Scharfenberger remains committed to assisting survivors.  Diocesan officials are still cooperating with the AG's civil investigation. There is no update from that office or the district attorney yet.

We have spoken to several law firms preparing lawsuits under the recently passed Child Victims Act.

The Diocese is prepared to respond accordingly and they now promise 13 Investigates an on camera interview down the road on the Bishop's task force to support survivors and review-reform policies and protocols. They've met twice so far.

A Diocese of Albany Spokeswoman released this update on Bishop Edward Scharfenberger's "Task Force" on abuse Thursday afternoon:

The sex-abuse Task Force established by Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger in April held its second meeting June 25 at Siena College, establishing four committees to address the most immediate and pressing concerns related to abuse and survivors:

Survivors First Committee will focus on providing care and support for survivors and their families

Pastoral Care Committee will focus on providing support for priests in ministry, diocesan and parish employees, and parishioners troubled by the abuse scandal

Policy & Procedures Committee will review internal diocesan policies and protocols and revise according to the latest best practices

Financial Accountability Committee will focus on transparency related to financial matters

The work of the Policy & Procedures Committee is already under way, with plans to have the diocesan Code of Conduct fully revised – with four parallel versions for clergy, lay employees, volunteers, and minors – ready by early August. The diocesan social media policy is also slated for revision in the near future.

At the June 25 meeting, Task Force members also discussed a variety of issues that will come into play as the Aug. 14 deadline for the lookback window in Child Victims Act approaches, allowing formerly time-barred claims to be filed. Among those topics covered were communications, the Memorandum of Understanding the Diocese has with area district attorneys, the Diocesan Review Board, and training people to be able to provide pastoral support on a grass-roots level out in the parishes.

The Task Force has meetings scheduled for August and September. Committee meetings will be ongoing.  —Mary DeTurris Poust


UPDATE: On August 1, Mary DeTurris Poust,  Director of Communications and Associate Publisher for "The Evangelist" sent NewsChannel 13 this statement:

"Contributions to the pension fund do not come from Bishop’s Appeal donations. They are made by each individual priest and by the parish where he serves. This mirrors the way the lay-employee pension plan works — lay employees contribute along with the diocese, parish or school where the employee serves. Parishes that do not have full-time pastors are assessed a payment toward the pension fund based on a formula, with the understanding that they require the service of a priest and so would share in the coverage of the pension. 

"The diocese is legally required to provide pensions to all priests who are vested and have reached retirement age. In addition, the Code of Canon Law requires the diocese to provide "decent support" to all clerics. Canon Law also respects the civil law protections for pension arrangements." 

Credits

Jill Konopka

Copyright 2019 WNYT-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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